With a bit of distance between now and when All-New Wolverine was still releasing, my opinion on the series has changed a bit. I still contend that it was for the most part, the best X-Men comic on the market at the time. I still feel that Orphans of X is the best X-23 related story in years, and the opening arc, the Four Sisters, is a close second. But at the same time, several arcs felt too short, and as the series went on, it became a bit too much about Gabby and not enough about Laura at times. There were moments when Gabby almost felt like a parody than an actual character, as entertaining as she is. But that’s not unusual for writers who end up creating a fan-favourite character. You could even say the same of X-23 when her creators put her into a couple team books from 2005-2010. And near the end of the series, the writing got way too political, to the point where it interfered with the storytelling.
Anyway, today saw the release of Laura Kinney’s newest solo series, just over a month after All-New Wolverine ended. My thoughts are a bit mixed. On the one hand, All-New Wolverine felt like the last story arc should have been longer and lasted a couple more months. We’re also some time away from the original Wolverine’s actual return, which means Laura doesn’t need to drop the name just yet. On the other hand, it felt like it was about time for Laura to switch to another writer, and Mariko Tamaki is known for job writing damaged characters very well. Even if Laura’s mostly recovered from her horrific past, giving her writing duties on X-23 volume 4 felt like the right choice.
X-23 1 is for the most part a great comic. It puts the focus back onto the title character and gives the series a clear and fitting direction for both this arc and future arcs. It also provides enough action for a Wolverine family book. The internal narration really delves into Laura’s state of mind; how complicated her life has become, how she’s starting to feel less unique with all the Weapon X clones different companies are trying to make, and why she doesn’t see her birthday as anything special. But at the same time, you see her determination through her actions and her words, both spoken and narrated. Some of her dialogue feels a bit off, but no more so than in early issues of All-New Wolverine. Gabby is also toned down a bit compared to the later issues in All-New Wolverine, yet she still retains her optimistic, entertaining self. There are even a couple minor arguments between the two, like actual sisters where one is clearly the guardian.
The story is both straight forward and fitting for Laura. She’s basically trying to stop anyone from cloning armies of mutants to use as weapons. She’s trying to prevent anyone from suffering the same kind of childhood she did. The opening action scene is her and Gabby doing just that, and it shows an entertaining combination of Laura’s skill, fearlessness and the restraint she’s developed over the years. Meanwhile, the Stepford Cuckoos are given a perfectly reasonable motivation for being the enemy in this arc. I won’t spoil it, but it feels right, as does their reason for going back to their original look. It also leads to some great awkward glances from Laura and an amusing exchange between the two sets of clones.
The art by Juann Cabal is fantastic. The opening montage enhances the opening monologue with images from various points in Laura’s life. The following spread of Laura and Gabby diving after evil scientists in jet packs is incredibly full of detail, from shards of glass flying around, smoke rising from the jetpacks, all the surrounding buildings and the clones’ hair realistically trailing behind them in the wind. This impressive level of detail continues throughout the comic, like Laura tying her hair in a bun during fight scenes to be more practical, while letting it loose in her downtime. On that front, Laura’s new costume has really grown on me. It’s the perfect blend of her more revealing X-Force outfit, while retaining her more conservative look from All-New Wolverine. Plus she keeps her bulletproof jacket, just with a slight redesign. There are plenty of Easter Eggs hiding in the background, like text books titled “William Blake” and “Nudism 101” and all the falafel puns at the falafel restaurant. There are paintings in the Xavier Institute that are basically interpretations of famous X-Men covers. But my favourite Easter Egg might just be the guy taking a selfie in front of the destroyed car that one of the rocket men landed on, while Laura casually makes a phone call. There are plenty more, but I’ll let you seek them out yourself.
Facial expressions do a brilliant job at conveying emotion, like Gabby’s goofy smile after she’s flattened by a truck, Beast’s focused look while he’s giving Laura a direction for her quest to stop corporate cloning, and Laura’s many confused/embarrassed expressions when Gabby says or does something weird. Another neat touch is that while the Cuckoos appear emotionless while they’re out in public, they show their unique personalities, their worry and their determination in private. Nolan Woodard, who coloured every issue of All-New Wolverine, returns and does a brilliant job here as well. The shading feels realistic, the use of lighting is brilliant, and this is overall a bright and colourful comic.
The only thing I don’t like about this comic is that it doesn’t explain why Laura’s taking back what is basically her slave name. But then again, we never saw the moment Laura decided to take on Wolverine’s identity, so that might actually be Marvel’s editorial staff more than the creative teams. Apart from that, this is a fantastic start to X-23 volume 4. Laura feels in-character in everything but a handful of her lines. Gabby is toned down just enough that she’s still entertaining without feeling obnoxious or fake. The story feels like a natural continuation of the themes from All-New Wolverine. And of course the art is brilliant from start to finish. This is definitely worth a look for those who enjoyed All-New Wolverine, long-time fans of X-23, and newcomers to Wolverine’s female clone.